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Old 11-07-2012, 5:39 AM
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Default Old Radios (Sort of...?)

Hi all,

I'm new to the hobby as an active participant but I've been around it with my dad pretty much entire life. So I've got to see a LOT of rig, but I need to define OLD when I say "old". Because for me an old radio is a vintage Helicrafters or an old Heathkit rig or even older than that (Keep in mind my dad was licensed right after his return home from the Korean war). When I say old, I really mean sometime before 2000 and after 1980 which gives us a 20 year window. Oddly enough (and I digress here) when I was younger I disliked anything old, but as I've grown up I developed a very keen fondness for the old rigs my dad had collected and really cherish them. There is nothing like that old tube glow in the middle of the night to remind you that this thing is really working, that something is going on. Plus when you're 6 the heater lights chase away closet monsters, lets be honest.

But getting a bit more modern, but still old enough. I've developed a fondness for older model digital rigs (no more knobs turning strings inside your Helicrafter rig). I'm talking rigs like the IC-730 or the IC-735 or the Kenwood TS440 (Dot problems aside). Lots of folks (especially new hams like myself) dismiss these older rigs, or if not dismiss them just flat out assume they're old and junky. Well that couldn't be further from the truth.

Sure sure, they don't have IF DSP (or any DSP for that matter) but some will argue that the receive and transmit of the AM in the IC-735 is second to none even today. You may have to have some outlay of cash once you get one (I did) to get it aligned, cleaned up and all ship shape. But that (at least for me) wasn't all that expensive at all ($70 or so). With a few modern gadgets, which in my opinion you might need/want even with modern rigs these radios will do a bang up job for you.

The one shortcoming you might have with the older rigs like these is pulling people out of the noise, and while in fact IF DSP is nice you can get away with Audio DSP for this too (with some AGC limitations). I shopped around for some sort of external audio processor and found the ideal match (made in heaven if you ask me) with the Elecraft AF1 Active Audio filter kit. This handy dandy little wonder can be put together (if you're experienced with soldering) in a few hours or so. What you get at the end of the day is a way to clean up CW and SSB signals like nobody's business. The beauty is two fold, one it's very inexpensive ($60 or so) and two it's Elecraft and they do some great things so you know you're getting a piece of quality gear. As an added bonus it's also an amp unit so all you need is a decent (and I suggest a fairly decent 3-5") external speaker for this and off you go with more audio control than you probably ever need. Sure this isn't DSP but it will surprise you and it won't cost you another $200 on top of everything else.

The next thing is digital modes, lets face it that digital modes are here to stay. But for our old radios that doesn't mean they're left out of the good times! Before I begin it's important to say that even new model radios, may require this investment as well. I found a fantastic way to get your old rig, for me that is an IC-735 on the air with digital is a small little device called the SignaLink by Tigertronic. There are other more costly brands that may or may not perform better but I've had great luck with this device and the IC-735. The cost for the SignaLink is nominal (about $85) and the cable and the jumper block will probably run you another $20ish (you don't *NEED* to buy the jumper block by the way, it's just an easy plug and play method). The advantage of using this device is that it offer complete isolation from your computer so you don't have to worry about RF. It's also it's own Soundcard so you only have one (1) cable going to your PC, and one going to rig. Of course if you're a CW user and want to use your PC as a keywer with something like Skimmer or CwGet you can obtain a WinKeyer they work with old rigs too.

The last thing you'll probably want is a good auto tuner, I have nothing against manual tuners at all. In fact I have a very nice Palstar roller inductor tuner that will do full legal limit. The reason I suggest an Auto tuner is simple, lots of modern transceivers have built in auto tuners. To this end there are LOTS of choice, my favorite is the LDG Electronics AT-100Pro II. There are lots of reasons I like it, it's compact and fits nicely and easily on top of the IC-735. It's not MFJ may be another reason to like it for some people. But most of all, it's fast and it manages to get 1:1 more often than not on any band you tune to. The cost is reasonable as well at about $215. This item also isn't necessarily one limited to only old school radios like the IC-735 since lots of the modern built in tuners can't tune complex loads or high impedance loads (like non-resonant vertical antennas). Before I get jumped on, I KNOW that relying on a tuner isn't ideal, ideally you'll want a resonant antenna that gives you low SWR without any fancy schmancy tuner. But the new guys (and the old) may not be able to come up with perfect antennas or what have you, making the auto tuner (or any tuner honestly) a handy piece of gear to have.

The last few things I have to say on this topic are this.. You can usually find these rigs relatively inexpensively in (usually) great condition. Usually you can find something like the IC-735 in the $200-400 range and often these will already have the WARC mods done. That's another thing, these radios have been out in the wild for a LONG time there's about a million mods for the IC-735 to improve it and even get it interfaced to your PC with RS-232 (I may be misremembering this one). To see just how well these old school 30 year old radios are, just go look at eHam, almost NO ONE has anything bad to say and for a radio 26+ yrs old or older that's really saying something. I'm sure (at least I hope so) that some of the Elmers and other will jump in and expand on the wonderful oldie radios and encourage other people that may be looking for a nice rig (starter or otherwise) to at least see there are some good choices out there. I still miss my tube heaters glowing in the dark in my room... *sigh*
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Last edited by acyddrop; 11-07-2012 at 5:44 AM..
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Old 11-07-2012, 9:13 AM
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One small correction to your interesting write-up; Hallicrafters is the correct name, not Helicrafter. If I were to go looking for a really good, really old separate transmitter/receiver I'd go back even farther and look for a Collins 75A4 with product detector installed, plus maybe (now this is getting REALLY old!) an Eldico SSB-100F or Collins 32V3 transmitter. If you're old enough to recognize these model numbers then you know what kind of great audio they produced. My tuner would be the old reliable Drake MN-4 which would match anything from an end-fed longwire to a large metal garbage can for an antenna, which is of course an exaggeration but not by much. Such equipment does not and never did represent any kind of "plug and play" setup, but half the fun of setting it up was getting it all to work together properly.
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Old 11-07-2012, 10:10 AM
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That Collins was far to heavy for an 8 yr old to go lugging about. Interestingly enough the first radio I really remember in my room was the Hallicrafters S 38B which eventually my dad took away from me. What was interesting (to an 8 yr old) was listening the military (emergency?) bands. They had these little marks my dad had explained to me they were used during the war (WW 2 I assume?). I never heard anything on them except static but it sure seemed fun. After that radio which my dad took back to restore I had a Heathkit receiver (I don't remember which version) that had originally been paired with a transmitter back before my dad had gotten married. That's the radio I remember the best from a childhood point of view, it chased away the closet monsters, I still miss tube heaters and the lights they made.

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Originally Posted by W2NJS View Post
One small correction to your interesting write-up; Hallicrafters is the correct name, not Helicrafter. If I were to go looking for a really good, really old separate transmitter/receiver I'd go back even farther and look for a Collins 75A4 with product detector installed, plus maybe (now this is getting REALLY old!) an Eldico SSB-100F or Collins 32V3 transmitter. If you're old enough to recognize these model numbers then you know what kind of great audio they produced. My tuner would be the old reliable Drake MN-4 which would match anything from an end-fed longwire to a large metal garbage can for an antenna, which is of course an exaggeration but not by much. Such equipment does not and never did represent any kind of "plug and play" setup, but half the fun of setting it up was getting it all to work together properly.
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Old 11-07-2012, 5:44 PM
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Hmmmm....LOL The guy( my local ham dealer) probably has a few of those on his shelf! I asked him if one of those huge radios was the origional radio.....he just looked at me I said..."sorry Jene"....lol
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Old 11-07-2012, 5:51 PM
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... They had these little marks my dad had explained to me they were used during the war (WW 2 I assume?)...
CONELRAD - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Old 11-07-2012, 5:56 PM
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Acid that rig I like I do...!! I should be ablevtompick up one for what $400.00? I mean one that actually transmits and receives?!
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Old 11-07-2012, 6:27 PM
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Thumbs up Hallicrafters S-120

This is the one that I used back in my earlier days to satisfy my cravings for SW. I do remember the warm glow of tubes, also. Those were good times.
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Old 11-07-2012, 9:26 PM
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You can pick the IC-735s up for $400 or less. They're also mobile or base rigs. The IC-730 which is a tad older you can get for as little as $200 to $250. You will need a power supply of some sort for a base setup (true for virtually any modern radio also) but those need not be expensive. For any 100 watt max rig I suggest a 20 to 30 amp power supply. You can get those for not a lot of money ($150 or less). Just add that AF1 (or splurge on an expensive DSP unit) to any of these rigs and you'll have AMAZING receive ability (on par with modern rigs).

Now as far as transmitting.. Often you'll find these rigs require some servicing, nothing (usually) to extreme. Just a basic alignment and cleaning. I know mine did and that cost me a whopping $70. The thing is the IC-735 is to some extent user serviceable in this area. In the user manual (not the service manual) they tell you how to open up the rig, and zero beat against WWV to align your radio. It might sound complicated but apparently (I've not done this, so I can't say) it's stupidly simple and easy to do. There are also a wide range of home surgeries you can do on your IC-735 if you've got good solder skills. But I'd say for about $70 just send it off.

Another word on this... As with all used gear you need to be aware of what you're getting. Some times you'll find people selling 735s (or any other radio really) that don't work. Sometimes they know and admit it, other times they sell non-functional rigs unbeknownst to them, and sometimes they're just scamming you. With that said, I've seen the IC-730 and 735 sell for $300 or more on eBay (and QRZ, and eHam) even if they don't work. Why? Because fixing these things is usually not an insanely costly proposition. Instead of spending $70 to fix it up, you might spend $150 to fix it up. So at $250 for the rig you're still getting a reasonable deal, provided you can determine exactly what is wrong with the rig before you buy it. Obviously a working rig is preferred in all cases, but getting a rig with say.. A blown final stage if you know that up front you can factor that into your costs, I can even recommend an amazing Icom service guy that knows these rigs backward and forward and has reasonable rates.

Just be aware that you may have to perform some home surgery anyway depending on your needs. For example you'll probably want the WARC bands. You can send it off to the shop for that, or you can do it at home. The guides for doing it are well written and well established at this point. These older rigs were meant to be tinkered with I think.

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Originally Posted by Fuzy_GSXR1000 View Post
Acid that rig I like I do...!! I should be ablevtompick up one for what $400.00? I mean one that actually transmits and receives?!
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Old 11-07-2012, 9:34 PM
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Thank you! That's the guy right there.

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Old 11-08-2012, 4:20 PM
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"That Collins was far to heavy for an 8 yr old to go lugging about."

Ah, those were the days when we didn't have to worry about the kids absconding our radios. Those were the days when the Army called radios you need a forklift to move portable. REAL boat anchors will hold a battleship in a hurricane and I'm sure you can name a few like the KW-1 and the BC-610 transmitters. Real radios glow in the dark? True, but then 12 volts is for wimps, real radios can KILL you.

There are boat anchors and then there are BOAT ANCHORS! Here's a pair of 1KW Collins transmitters that make a neat room divider. Just be sure to put lolly columns under them in the basement, they weigh 1100lbs... each.

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Old 11-08-2012, 7:55 PM
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I hear ya that's why before I pull the trigger I'll go with my club or bring somebody with me!! That would stink to pay any amount for something that doesn't work.
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Old 11-12-2012, 5:42 PM
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Those giant AM transmitters are fantastic, I've seen (and heard) them. But why must they always look like they belong in some torture chamber somewhere? Also to be fair I never absconded with my dads radios, when I was young (<10 yrs old) he'd be the one putting various SW and old radios in my room. I think he was trying to get me interested in ham radio (which worked to some degree) even when I was like 6 years old.

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"That Collins was far to heavy for an 8 yr old to go lugging about."

Ah, those were the days when we didn't have to worry about the kids absconding our radios. Those were the days when the Army called radios you need a forklift to move portable. REAL boat anchors will hold a battleship in a hurricane and I'm sure you can name a few like the KW-1 and the BC-610 transmitters. Real radios glow in the dark? True, but then 12 volts is for wimps, real radios can KILL you.

There are boat anchors and then there are BOAT ANCHORS! Here's a pair of 1KW Collins transmitters that make a neat room divider. Just be sure to put lolly columns under them in the basement, they weigh 1100lbs... each.
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Old 11-12-2012, 7:38 PM
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"But why must they always look like they belong in some torture chamber somewhere?"
Because standing next to them was an audio processor, monitoring equipment and patch panel in what's called "the rack". (;->)

Besides retuning old tube type transmitters for 160M and modifying the tuning networks for 75M many AM Gangstas build Class E solid state jobs based on digitally modulated broadcast transmitters that sound fantastic. There's nothing like broadcast quality Angel Music. BTW, during the transition to solid state stations were giving the old ones away, those we didn't rescue ended up in the scrap yards.
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Old 11-13-2012, 6:29 AM
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It's funny with the mad push to go solid state how much tubes stuck around in high power broadcast situations. Even to this day, despite the weight I'd rather have a tube based linear than a solid state based one. My point being even those things change things stay the same too. My long term project is my own home made auto tuning 1.5Kw linear based on just one 3CX1500A7 tube, but I have a few more things to learn before I start that particular project. Off topic slightly the thing I like most about ham radio is getting back to "my roots" as a maker. I haven't been this giddy about experimenting since I was a teen (before college and graduate school).
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Old 11-13-2012, 3:50 PM
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That depends on what you mean by high power, in commercial broadcast everything up to and including 50KW is solid state. Aside from the obvious much lower power consumption the other advantage is hot switchable modular construction. Unlike tubes, when a module fails the transmitter continues to function at reduced power and the dead module(s) can be changed out without shutting down. Still stations have plenty of backup, they don't make any money during down time so every effort is made to stay on the air.

I don't follow technical developments in the dying world of SWBC but I remember the construction of the most powerful station in the US, the Greenville, NC facility of the VOA. They're still around using that wonderful Collins equipment, a bunch of 100KW transmitters and at least one water cooled single tube 2MW final amp. It feeds a log periodic with an ERP of 12MW aimed at the old Soviet Union, the answer to the even more powerful Radio Moscow now The Voice Of Russia. Somehow designing a solid state unit for that power level would be a bit of a challenge.

Building an amp around a 3CX1500A7 is no big deal for the experienced ham but good luck with auto tune, you'll need some serious components to handle THAT power level and SWR. I'm sure you know you can't tune the antenna, only match impedance and in doing so encounter surprisingly high voltage in some cases, surprisingly high currents in others.

For what it's worth I repaired a fellow ham's remote tuner, a stepping arrangement controlled from the shack. Several of the doorknob caps exploded leaving fragments at the bottom of the dog house at the tower base (the tower itself was a grounded, folded unipole) and he wanted to replace them with higher voltage units. I said no, current causes heat, heat makes them explode. I divided the capacitance of one unit into several smaller values that totaled the original thus lowering the current through each individual cap, problem solved.

Here's the chuckle, I'm a lowly Tech, he's an Extra and a broadcast engineer to boot. It only goes to show knowledge is NOT measured by degrees. Pity the "three letter men" with BS, MS and PhD who don't understand what those letters mean; Bull Stuff, More Stuff, Piled Higher and Deeper. (;->)
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Old 11-13-2012, 4:08 PM
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Related to the amp (and entirely off topic.. Sort of?)...

I was thinking of borrowing a page from Alpha's book and tuning the caps and inductors with stepper motors. So basically, they're normal air/tunable gear but you tune them with stepper motors. Which makes a lot of sense to me. Firstly it'd make tuning it up a relative breeze since you can get away with tiny logic circuits based around, say, an Arduino or PIC. You could even split up the work between several units (same as Alpha), though I think a single spry Arduino would be more than suitable to the task. The up shot of this is, you can locate the logic outside of the amp, isolate both the power (RF) side and the control side (Arduino) with opto isolators. One thing the Arduino does with aplomb is control stepper motors. The same micro controller could handle sorting out your load, plate current, etc etc etc as well as swr, forward/reverse wattage and so forth. I suppose you could even put the logic inside of the amp and just shield it (Faraday cage for example) from the rest. BUT that is way far off topic...

The last broadcast station I saw used tubes, but that was about a million years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth. And by the way I have one of those fancy degrees from a fancy engineering school in Cambridge, MA. Just saying

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That depends on what you mean by high power, in commercial broadcast everything up to and including 50KW is solid state. Aside from the obvious much lower power consumption the other advantage is hot switchable modular construction. Unlike tubes, when a module fails the transmitter continues to function at reduced power and the dead module(s) can be changed out without shutting down. Still stations have plenty of backup, they don't make any money during down time so every effort is made to stay on the air.

I don't follow technical developments in the dying world of SWBC but I remember the construction of the most powerful station in the US, the Greenville, NC facility of the VOA. They're still around using that wonderful Collins equipment, a bunch of 100KW transmitters and at least one water cooled single tube 2MW final amp. It feeds a log periodic with an ERP of 12MW aimed at the old Soviet Union, the answer to the even more powerful Radio Moscow now The Voice Of Russia. Somehow designing a solid state unit for that power level would be a bit of a challenge.

Building an amp around a 3CX1500A7 is no big deal for the experienced ham but good luck with auto tune, you'll need some serious components to handle THAT power level and SWR. I'm sure you know you can't tune the antenna, only match impedance and in doing so encounter surprisingly high voltage in some cases, surprisingly high currents in others.

For what it's worth I repaired a fellow ham's remote tuner, a stepping arrangement controlled from the shack. Several of the doorknob caps exploded leaving fragments at the bottom of the dog house at the tower base (the tower itself was a grounded, folded unipole) and he wanted to replace them with higher voltage units. I said no, current causes heat, heat makes them explode. I divided the capacitance of one unit into several smaller values that totaled the original thus lowering the current through each individual cap, problem solved.

Here's the chuckle, I'm a lowly Tech, he's an Extra and a broadcast engineer to boot. It only goes to show knowledge is NOT measured by degrees. Pity the "three letter men" with BS, MS and PhD who don't understand what those letters mean; Bull Stuff, More Stuff, Piled Higher and Deeper. (;->)
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Old 11-13-2012, 6:30 PM
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You graduated from MIT?? Isn't that where the guitar from Boston went? I think he invented something called the rock man?!! Guitar distortion box or something? He is a good guitar player!! I love that Band!!!
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Old 11-13-2012, 7:31 PM
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Yeah, back quite a few years ago now. Even after I graduated I worked near Kendall Square and would go buy books and other things from the MIT book store right by the T stop. My sister went to school down the road at Harvard (one T stop from Kendall on the Red line). The most famous man I know from MIT is Dr. Harold Edgerton, whom my dad knew.

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You graduated from MIT?? Isn't that where the guitar from Boston went? I think he invented something called the rock man?!! Guitar distortion box or something? He is a good guitar player!! I love that Band!!!
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Old 11-14-2012, 11:33 AM
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As long as the mods don't mind the topic(s) drifting a bit, good luck with the amp, sounds like a plan.

MIT is a wonderful place with such diversity, I wonder if the robotics guys still have the competition I so loved to follow. They come up with the weirdest ideas but weirdness is thinking outside the box and key to development. I used to follow developments on their technical website open to the public, DARPA and others but post 9-11 Homeland Security with their terrorist paranoia put the kibosh on them.

"And by the way I have one of those fancy degrees from a fancy engineering school in Cambridge, MA."

Then you should appreciate the lettered humor I picked up at NCE, now NJIT in beautiful downtown Newark, NJ. I say that with a silly grin, the main parking lot was in the shadow of Central HS on High Street where the kids would toss junk at us out the windows. Thankfully the school no longer stands so today's students don't suffer the indignity.

Along the lines of graduate letters the one I find most amusing is PE, Practicing Engineer. If you want to see how it can be misused with a hysterically funny twist check this out but before clicking on the link put on a girdle or you'll bust a gut and keep a barf bag handy just in case.
http://www.k1man.com/physics.pdf
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Old 11-14-2012, 12:54 PM
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Posts: 1,536
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Originally Posted by kb2vxa View Post
Here's a pair of 1KW Collins transmitters that make a neat room divider. Just be sure to put lolly columns under them in the basement, they weigh 1100lbs... each.
These weren't any out of WMTR in Morristown (Cedar Knolls, actually), were they? I exchanged emails with the gentleman who bought their old back-up transmitter a few months ago. He's going to put it on 160m AM.

About 20 years ago I was doing a service call to WDHA's transmitter site for an 800 MHz data station and had to wait for the site key at the studio with a very talented young lady who was a part-time DJ. She could carry on a conversation with me, stop in mid sentence, announce something over the FM radio, cut the mic, then pick up the conversation just where she left off. When the engineer showed up with the key, he gave me the nickel tour of the other side of the studio, which was WMTR, with a beautiful art deco Collins just like that.

The shame of it was that side was all automated with a couple of big carousel cart machines running stuff. The FM person updated the weather and any news. The rest was set-and-forget. Only regret from that whole adventure was not getting that young lady's phone number at the time. Oh well.
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